Thursday, July 19, 2007

Better than a Painted School

You want some honest, realistic good news from Iraq? Here it is (courtesy of the ever-vigilant Cernig):

Seven of the most important Sunni-led insurgent organisations fighting the US occupation in Iraq have agreed to form a public political alliance with the aim of preparing for negotiations in advance of an American withdrawal, their leaders have told the Guardian.

In their first interview with the western media since the US-British invasion of 2003, leaders of three of the insurgent groups - responsible for thousands of attacks against US and Iraqi armed forces and police - made clear that they would continue their armed resistance until all foreign troops were withdrawn from Iraq, and denounced al-Qaida for sectarian killings and suicide bombings against civilians.

Speaking in Damascus, the spokesmen for the three groups - the 1920 Revolution Brigades, Ansar al-Sunna and Iraqi Hamas - said they planned to hold a congress to launch a united front within the next few weeks and appealed to Arab governments, other governments and the UN to help them establish a permanent political presence outside Iraq.

This is good news because it is essential that the Sunni insurgents forge a political presence that can, eventually, lead negotiations on an effective power-sharing arrangement with the rest of Iraq's major factions (think Sinn Fein and the IRA). Further, the exclusion of al-Qaeda type elements is a necessary and constructive step (those espousing al-Qaeda's worldview would not likely be amenable to any negotiated settlement, nor could they be counted on to live up to any should they initially accede).

The best possible outcome here would be for this political front to gather and unite the lion's share of Sunni resistance groups such that it forms as unified and non-factionalized a voice as possible. If the Sunni resistance's political front can speak for, and bind, the vast majority of the armed wing, then effective negotiated settlements will be made more possible. This, despite the fact that even with these conditions satisfied, it is likely that some period of increased conflict may play out regardless before negotiations become attractive enough to the various combatants.

A useful corollary to these political developments would be for the Iraqi government to hold a new round of provincial elections (which is one of those elusive benchmarks). In the last local elections held in January 2005, the Sunni parties boycotted in protest. Thus, many predominately Sunni areas now have Shiite’s in charge of local government. Expanding the Sunni political presence, at the same time that the resistance gains a political voice, would at least set the stage for the curtain call, even if such a resolution remains many bloody acts away.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the good news.

[UPDATE: More analysis from the Aardvark:

These moves by the major insurgency factions over the last several months don't fit well within the preferred American narrative. Their actions are not motivated by the 'surge', but rather by the belief that the US will soon leave. Their hostility to the Islamic State of Iraq/al-Qaeda does not translate into support for the United States or the current Iraqi government. They vow to continue armed struggle until the US forces leave, and to stop the violence when they do. And they have clear demands for changes to the Iraqi political system on behalf of Sunni interests - demands which may be unacceptable to other Iraqis in their current form but at least offer a starting point for real political talks. These factions have been articulating these positions very clearly and consistently for several months now. But they repeatedly seem to be marginalized or discounted because they don't fit the American narrative, in which al-Qaeda is the primary enemy and most Sunnis and insurgency groups are switching to the American side. I really hope that American officials don't really believe their own propaganda and are paying attention to the really significant developments on the Sunni side - because if not, then the political resolution which everyone seems to agree is needed will never be achieved.


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